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Apr. 21st, 2003

Oh dear. Nina Simone has died. She was an old cuss, contrary, angry and awkward -- but she was also brilliant, witty and an original and wrote some of the best songs ever heard.

* * *

My favourite person this week:

Angelika Wedberg of Gothenberg, a 30-year-old care worker who got tired of her life and decided to advertise in the local newspaper for a new job. She was also sick of lying at interviews.

She wrote: "I want a well-paid job. I have no imagination, I am anti-social, uncreative and untalented."

She has been inundated with replies and offered a job that improves her current salary by a third. *g*

* * *

It was difficult to get to work today; there were shootings at the fairly famous nightclub near where I work and the whole crossroads around there is sealed off.

One of the things that I loved most about driving through the middle of California at night was listening to the bizarro radio stations. I kept losing NPR, so I would hit the search button and find shows like "Gun Talk", in which the host instructed people who had shot themselves in the leg on, you know, not doing it again. So I gathered that this show was not for rocket scientists

At the time I mocked the host for saying that Britain has a terrible gun crime problem, and that the police want to be armed because (1) We don't. Mostly. and (2) Duh, of course the police want to be armed, they're the police.

I'd have mocked less if the host hadn't said such patently absurd things, but there's a grain of truth in his central point, which is that gun crime in London particularly is going up and the change is noticeable.

However, we don't have 11,000 gun-related incidents a year and for that I am glad.

* * *
Ever since I got back from my vacation I've been working. I had Saturday off, but I worked until 2am the night before so it was more of a half-day, what with the sleeping in and the going to bed early.

And the stupid plan to make mood icons.

I really am Norma No-Mates. Thank goodness this social outcast has the internet.

But tomorrow, off work for two days. Celebration! Dancing! Thinking of stuff to do in the evening! *g*

* * *

Nick Hornby's new book "31 Songs" is a series of essays about music he adores and that altered the course of his life. I haven't read it (it's a hardback) but I have read all about it. Hornby's ubiquity in the British media saw to that. Here you can find his list and a survey of songs that altered other people's lives.

I was talking to lilydale about this, about the way that hearing a song can return you to happier times or alter your mood. It's the purest drug of all. We thought we could do our own lists and, because she is not a crapweasel, she has actually begun hers.

I think it would be wonderful to read more of these, so I'd like to throw down the challenge: talk about a song or a piece of music that has changed your life. Talk about more than one, if it please you.

I want to talk about the way The Smiths changed my life when I was 11 and why I never want to hear "I Just Called To Say I love You" again as long as I live; about the way I felt when I heard the magnificent rumbling menace of "Gimme Shelter" by the Stones for the first time and why Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker" is, frankly, the most disturbing noise ever committed to vinyl.

But I want to start with something simpler. Simpler because it's a happy story and a beautiful record.


Most people of a certain age, a span that moves from about 25 to 35 years old, would cite The Joshua Tree as a record that informed their lives. It forms part of the holy trinity of late 80s student life: Kick by INXS, So by Peter Gabriel and The Joshua Tree

Appetite for Destruction and Hysteria may have sold more, but they're all flash, mouth and trousers, music for excitable adolescents. The Joshua Tree is thought and space and heart and feeling. For everyone.

That 1987 album is a love letter to a country: the United States. Mixed by Steve Lillywhite and sequenced by his then wife, Kirsty MacColl, when Bono and Edge couldn't make up their minds, it moves through a series of emotional songs that build to a climax that's not histrionic, like Gloria (which I love, but God it's overblown) or arch like much of the Pop album.

The producers Eno and Lanois work to create music that's layered but not overcomplicated, with the tensile strength of steel. There are spaces in that music, for us to move inside. The lyrics are personal while being universal, the sneakiest of all tricks for a musician to pull off.

It's about the universal joys and pains of being alive in an age when a lot of musicians are writing about the miseries of being rich, famous and adored. (Oh, J-Lo, Robbie Williams, Eminem, you poor dears, fancying being able to behave like an absolute twat with no consequence and getting paid for it. How do you cope?)

I think that one of the reasons that All That You Can't Leave Behind has been so successful is that it recaptures the questing spirit of The Joshua Tree. It's an older record, quieter, more resigned -- it's also much more uneven; the B side of ATYCLB isn't a patch on the B-side of Joshua Tree -- but it feels the same. It has space and a horizon.

I first remember hearing The Joshua Tree's best track, I Still... when I was 15, which must have been at the time it came out. I was in a campsite in the Lake District with a bunch of people I didn't know terribly well. Here I was in this most beautiful place, listening to a tinny radio blaring something that spoke to the questing 15-year-old searching for a place in the world. The song augured one of the best holidays of my life.

Ever since, I have *never* had a bad day when I have heard that song on the radio. Very often I have an excellent day; it's as if the song itself brings its own sunshiny sense of good karma and infuses it into the day.

You can't induce the sunshiney karma by *playing* the record, however. You have to happen upon it accidentally. That's very important.

Paul Gambaccini, the rock historian and Radio 2 smoothie, says that "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is the greatest song on that great album; he calls it a hymn that celebrates the quest for meaning, and I think he's right.

Early on, U2 almost broke up because three of the members were deeply committed to what sounds very much like a radical evangelical Christian group. Certainly they retain a deep faith and that's one of the things that comes through very strongly on this track. Bono begins by singing about restless journeying (climbing mountains, scaling city walls) to be with "you". Then he moves to worldly love, then the pleasures of temptation and finally he explicitly refers to his beliefs. But in each case he concludes that he needs to keep searching for his truth.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For speaks to me. It's about the constant search for meaning. I don't give a shit if I come off as pretentious in trying to explain why: I love this record.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 22nd, 2003 08:48 am (UTC)
you also, I'm assuming, don't have a legislative body (in our case, the House of Representatives) that just passed a law making it impossible for shooting victims to sue gun manufacturers and sellers (even those that don't follow the existing rules or look the other way at straw buys, where convicted felons use someone with a clean record to buy their weapons, often with the knowledge and therefore complicity of the seller).

We had that as a page lead yesterday -- do the Republican party and a sizeable proportion of Democrats get a lot of funding for gun lobbyists?

Because if they don't I can't really see much reason why firearms manufacturers should be the only industry with this kind of protection. I could understand some kind of protection for the industry if it did not include those who sell arms in a negligent fashion, but this blanket exemption is weirdness itself and stinks.

In fact, there was about a year-long period when "The Joshua Tree" was the only thing I played. It's one of my mother's favorite songs too, BTW (and she's 77). Hmm. Maybe I should ask her about songs that changed *her* life. That might be interesting...

It's a very inclusive album. And yes, you should, because it would be. *g*
Apr. 21st, 2003 06:02 pm (UTC)
That's a fabulous little essay on a great song. My feelings for The Joshua Tree have always been somewhere between strong like and love, but the older I get, the more I appreciate it for what it is and am amazed by the little things.

Plus, it sounds absofuckinlutely INCREDIBLE through headphones. *g*

I'm looking forward to checking out that new Hornby book. I want to talk about songs, but it's hard for me to pick songs that have "changed my life." I have a list of songs that I love and songs that move me, but I don't know that my life has been changed by anything -- book or song. Maybe "shaped me" is a better way of putting it.

Hm. Must do more pondering on this.
Apr. 22nd, 2003 08:50 am (UTC)
I should have just said songs that mean something to you, or move you. Perhaps the whole "last night a DJ changed my life" thing is going a little far.

Thanks for the Bono fact though, which I had never noticed before, and I am now playing the Joshua Tree on headphones. *g*
Apr. 21st, 2003 06:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, and you know what else is cool about this song? Almost the whole vocal line is right at the top of Bono's range. He shouldn't be able to sing it, but he can, and he does it without shouting or letting his voice break.
Apr. 21st, 2003 07:18 pm (UTC)
Okay, loved LOVED the treatise on the song - one that would definitely make my list. But, I ask you...how on earth is a simpleton like myself going to write about my silly songs after reading something like that?

What if I just wait for all your picks and do things like, "me too" after them? Does that work???

I could "me too" after Lilydale's too - I'm finding myself agreeing with her most of the time too..heehee
Apr. 21st, 2003 08:13 pm (UTC)
So can I say "me too" after your comment? *g* My list would include comments like, "Boy howdy, do I love this song!"

Not very good reading, but I can say I'd be lost in rapture while listening to the song as it played in my head. *g*
Apr. 22nd, 2003 08:52 am (UTC)
[subliminal messsage] Go on, write about the songs you love [/subliminal message]

:::whistles innocently:::
Apr. 21st, 2003 08:13 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm really glad that I started my list before you started yours because your discussion is so much better than any of mine. *g* However, I am going to keep going, and you are too!

Thanks for mentioning the book that inspired our conversation - I had forgotten it. Of course it had to be Nick Hornby, just to make the last few days entirely about him. (I still can't believe that I tolerated the Droopy Dogness of Hugh Grant not once but TWICE in "About A Boy" this weekend.)

Angelika Wedberg's strategy has been duly noted.

You do something in your time off, okay? I'll expect a report either here or in my inbox in two days. *g* And speaking of my inbox, yours should sometime (relatively) soon include a list of snippy lyrics that need identification. :-)
Apr. 22nd, 2003 01:11 pm (UTC)
Come back to London, I'll show you where Hugh Grant's flat is in About A Boy. (We got lost round there looking for a pub that was open on Bank Holiday Monday, but I digress)

Have you ever read High Fidelity? I can't remember if I asked you that or not.

Also, one of my days off is over and I did *nothing* but I had a good time doing it, in the sunshine *g*
Apr. 21st, 2003 08:56 pm (UTC)
Oh wow. What a great essay on a great song. It may be my favorite on the album, though Where the Streets Have No Name and Running to Stand Still also vie for that spot.


If I could be as eloquent, I'd consider doing this, because I can easily come up with at least 31 songs that have influenced/informed my life.
Apr. 22nd, 2003 01:16 pm (UTC)
You're one of the fearsomely eloquent people I had hoped to tempt into writing about the music you like. Please consider it. (Particularly because I like your taste in music. *g* )

And yes, Running to Stand Still is one of my favourites too.
Apr. 24th, 2003 10:56 am (UTC)
You're one of the fearsomely eloquent people I had hoped to tempt into writing about the music you like. Please consider it. (Particularly because I like your taste in music.


Well, I have been thinking about it. A lot actually. Because I retreat to my favorite music whenever I'm in need of comfort, so the sounds of Achtung Baby and Born to Run have been annoying my neighbors endlessly the past couple of days.

I probably will do it. I just have to stop being distracted by the discussions about writing. *G*
Apr. 22nd, 2003 06:16 am (UTC)
I just heard about Nina Simone on the news before I read your entry. I still haven't scouted up a copy of her singing "Black Coffee" to play in memoriam, but I haven't forgotten about it either.

I don't know why it seems so right that you opened with Nina Simone and closed with U2, but it does. "I Still Haven't Found ..." is such a hopeful song.

And I would totally be your mate if I were in London, if you could be brought to put up with me. I'm glad to see you online again.
Apr. 22nd, 2003 05:57 pm (UTC)
Of course I could put up with you. It would be an unalloyed pleasure.

Apr. 22nd, 2003 06:28 am (UTC)
Yes indeed, do expect a lot of "me too's" for your upcoming song posts, because you will continue, won't you?

"The Joshua Tree" hit when I was just feeling my first spurt of real personal independence, and the entire album (a dubbed copy on Radio Shack cassette from a friend, of course) is inextricably linked to memories of driving at night in my rusted out silver green Volkswagon Rabbit, speeding like the devil with the windows down, and relishing the feeling of being alive. Whenever I play it in the car nowadays (CD, of course *g*), I invariably roll down a window and pick up acceleration, feeling again the joy of being young and having the world in front of me.

Thanks, K!
Apr. 22nd, 2003 09:54 am (UTC)
LJ is doing that thing where I can't respond to people's comments, just original posts.

The gun industry believes and has convinced many in this country that it is protected under the Constitution (Second Amendment right to bear arms). It is also the most powerful issue lobby (NRA) in the US right behind old people (AARP). That's why they get so much stuff from the government. It's very disproportionate to their actual size as an industry - except they are supported by the entire military/indsutrial complex as well.

Pro gun = pro military = pro democracy in this country.

Gun control = anti-military = commie = totalitarian.

We are still very conscious as a nation of our need to take up arms against our own government if we hate it enough. We need guns to do that. We did it against you. We still remember it. It runs very deep in our national consciousness.p
Apr. 23rd, 2003 06:34 am (UTC)
I understand that; I know that it's a cultural difference and that what works here (very strict gun control with high penalties when you get caught) would not work in the US nor be desirable.

I could understand them making a law to protect gun companies from what the NRA would call frivolous and politically motivated lawsuits but the idea that all manufacturers and sellers receive blanket protection even when they have done wrong -- a protection extended to no other US industry -- and taking away the victims of the wrongdoing's right to sue? That just seems, well, unAmerican.
Apr. 23rd, 2003 08:09 am (UTC)
Um, lately there has been a lot of victim backlash stuff. Trying to limit people's right to sue doctors for malpractice, etc. That's all driven by the insurance companies, who don't want to compensate people with lifelong brain damage caused by malpractice, etc.

It's so bad here in the state of Illinois, that some doctors have to give up delivering babies. Because we don't have limits on the damages that can be awarded if somebody screws up, so the insurance companies have jacked the doctor's premiums up so high, they can't afford to provide services. In Indiana, by contrast, they have limits to damages, fairly low ones like $100,000 or something. Like if a doctor screws up and destroys your child's brain for life by not getting it oxygen during birth, you get $100,000 to pay for its lifelong institutionalization. Isn't that fair? THAT'S what the Insurance industry is FORCING by making the doctors in states not complying with damage caps be not able to afford to work.

That's a real obvious one, but I'm sure there are more other kinds of examples. And, again, it's one industry forcing everyone to comply by applying economic pressure and no one doing anything about it.

Damage caps are the new thing legally here. And they don't have anything to do with the severity of the damage the victim has suffered, mostly with how powerful the industry they're facing is.


Apr. 25th, 2003 02:11 pm (UTC)
That was such a lovely description of the hows and wheres and whys of loving a piece of music. The Joshua Tree was the first album my dad bought for me per my request. He bought me that and True Blue for my 13th birthday and I can remember the tangible feeling of unwrapping the box and seeing it sititng there, waiting for me. I played it endlessly, which was fine with him because he did the same thing with records he loved. I hope this theme contiues and people do write about music that made a difference in their lives.

( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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